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In those days alligators were accepted as natural enemies of mankind and the thought of holding back from slaying them never occurred to any one. For a while it was my daily program to find an alligator's bed in the grass, lie down upon it under a big linen hat, with a novel, a field glass and a Winchester, sending the darky boatman to hide with his skiff in some near-by creek, and then, basking in the sun-light, reading and dreaming by the hour, I would now and then lazily sweep with the glass the river's mirror-like surface, until a pair of shining eyes resting thereon some few hundred yards distant, announced the home-coming of the proprietor.
Quietly the glass would be laid down and the rifle slowly brought into position, with its sights aligned upon the advancing eyes. Soon the nose appeared, the top of the head rose above the water, its whole outline became visible, sank out of sight, reappeared and approached warily until I fired. The poor alligator would come to the surface, its four paws pathetically uplifted and its yellowish white belly showing. In a minute or two the body slowly sank into the depths, to be grappled for later.
I remember once having watched the water till my eyes ached, read Clark Russell's "Marooned" until I became drowsy, and was dreamily admiring the assurance of the author, in picturing his hero upon a deserted island alone with the girl he loved, and then adrift with her for days and nights in a small boat, and pretending that he didn't kiss her, and that she really married the idiot afterward, when I was startled by a slight rustling in the long grass beside me.
I rolled over and "all the conduits of my blood froze up," Within two feet of my face was the end of the tail of a big alligator, whose great form, partly traceable through the tall sedge, half encircled me as I lay beside him. Whether he was asleep or only playing possum was quite immaterial. I was in a trap sure enough.
A plunge into the sluggish Homosassa would have only transferred the trouble to an element even less favorable to me. For long minutes I lay breathless, wondering whether my "victim" would "open the ball" with his teeth or his tail. Perhaps the delay was due to his inability to decide between two weapons of equal availability and efficiency. The beating of my heart sounded to me like the trumpet of Gabriel. I dared not shout for my boatman, and that black imp had been trained not to come until he was called.
Apparently the big saurian had eight or ten peaceful hours in which to arrange his program undisturbed. I thought of turning my thumb down as a hint to him to hurry up. The interminable minutes seemed slowly transforming themselves into days. A dark, familiar body swooped past within a few feet of my face. It was the pioneer of a flock of buzzards which followed me daily up and down the river and the coast. I recognized this particular villain by the familiarity of his manner, as well as the bullet-hole in his wing and his one game leg. He had become the living echo of my rifle and had kept tab on my victims for many weeks. Hitherto I had willingly fed him and his family, but now I felt differently. However, the outlook now was that the alligator would save me from the buzzard. I could no longer see the bird, but felt that he was on some near-by skeleton of a tree, waiting and watching with that cold-blooded patience which I had until now admired.
Time and again the waving of a blade of grass sent discordant vibrations through my nerves until the chills and fever of suspense became intolerable. Slowly I turned the rifle, which was pointed over the river and away from my bed-fellow, until its muzzle was directed toward the head, which I vainly wore out my eyes to locate exactly. As the hammer was raised, while the held-back trigger prevented any warning click, some measure of hope returned. One little glimpse of eye or ear and the brute's brains might be distributed outside the zone of mischief. But in a random shot there are many blanks and few prizes. The outline of the body was fairly indicated, but a reptile, shot through the body, is given until sundown to die, which would have left many hours with mischief in each minute.
Another rustling in the grass dispelled the vacillation which had afflicted me. The muzzle of the weapon was shifted to bear upon the body just be-hind where the fore shoulder was believed to be. The slow pressure upon the trigger was followed by a roar which broke a great silence, and a head was lifted high above me, with wide-open jaws, from which proceeded a hiss like that of many serpents. Forward and back flashed the lever of the Winchester, and echo-like came a second report, while a stream of flame scorched the mouth of the reptile as a fortunate bullet passed through its brain.
As I gazed reflectively upon my late bed-fellow, the silence was broken by the voice of my boatman: "Did he crawl on the bank while you's asleep?" "Yes, Tat, he crawled on the bank, while we were asleep."
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